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Culture and Technology

A Primer

Jennifer Daryl Slack and J. Macgregor Wise

From mobile phones to surveillance cameras, from fracking to genetically modified food, we live in an age of intense debate about technology’s place in our culture. Culture and Technology is an essential guide to that debate and its fascinating history. It is a primer for beginners and an invaluable resource for those deeply committed to understanding the new digital culture. The award-winning first edition (2005) has been comprehensively updated to incorporate new technologies and contemporary theories about them. Slack and Wise untangle and expose cultural assumptions that underlie our thinking about technology, stories so deeply held we often don’t recognize their influence. The book considers the perceived inevitability of technological progress, the role of control and convenience, and the very sense of what technology is. It considers resistance to dominant stories by Luddites, the Unabomber, and the alternative technology movement. Most important, it builds an alternative, cultural studies approach for engaging technological culture, one that considers politics, economics, space, time, identity, and change. After all, what we think and what we do make a difference.
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10. Causality


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Beyond Determinism

AS DISCUSSED IN CHAPTER 4, technological determinism and cultural determinism represent two extreme positions with very few options for understanding how change happens. Most people, it turns out, think in more varied and often more complex ways about cultural and technological change. In her book Communication Technologies and Society, Jennifer described the most salient ways that people understand technology and change. She developed a way to explore the structures of thinking about causality used by people when they think about, make statements about, or take positions on technology.1 These positions are not necessarily held consciously, although they might be. Usually, however, it takes careful reflection (sometime self-reflection) to see the assumptions at work. It is also the case, as you will see, that it is not logically possible to operate with or believe more than one of these positions simultaneously. In the real world, however, people often take positions on technology that mix up these positions, which contributes to sloppy, unhelpful arguments. By carefully exploring the four positions, it is possible to unmask such sloppy thinking (including our own) and work toward conversations based on sound, critical thought. As we stated in the previous chapter, this, at the very least, enables identifying real bases for disagreement.

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